What we don’t talk about when we talk about money is that you can do all the right things, but if you don’t have a healthy emotional relationship to money, you’re probably going to struggle, no matter how many actual dollars you possess. Often our struggles with money don’t come from the amounts we’re earning or saving, but from our own unique view of money, based on our upbringing, and the things we learned about finances growing up. Until we understand the origins of our relationship to money, we remain stuck in old patterns.
Everyone has learned certain behaviors and feelings around money from whoever raised them.
In her perpetually bestselling book, 9 Steps to Financial Freedom, financial advisor Suze Orman makes figuring out your relationship to money the very first and most important step, and discourages readers from continuing the process until they have completed this work. She writes, “Messages about money are passed down from generation to generation, worn and chipped like the family dishes. Your own memories will tell you a lot, if you take that step back and see what those memories taught you about who you were – and whether those memories are still telling you who you are today.”
Money is an emotional subject; everyone has learned certain behaviors and feelings around money from whoever raised them. Growing up, I spent the majority of my time with my dad, whose relationship to money was mostly volatile. He was a photographer who owned a studio, and his happiness would go up and down with whether he was paid or not. One week, my brother and I would be lavished with toys and dinners out, only to be stuck on the couch with a listless father the next week, when the money ran out and no more jobs were booked.
From observing my dad, I learned that money was happiness, meant to be spent, not saved or planned for. And a lack of money was of course unhappiness. This view has caused a bit of trouble for me as I grew up to work independently in a creative field, where my money also goes up and down.
It’s difficult for me not to go into panic mode when I don’t have money coming in. It’s also difficult for me to keep my money, to not spend it wildly and joyfully. I try to remember that it may seem wild and joyful in the moment to spend, but it feels horrible when I realize I don’t have enough money left to meet my financial commitments.
While I continually work on budgeting and putting into action healthy financial strategies, I also work on my emotional relationship to money. I know that I can self-sabotage my finances so quickly if I don’t understand my impulses on an emotional level. If I don’t balance my strategies with healthy, positive, abundant beliefs about my financial life, I know I’m putting myself into a losing battle.
I know that I can self-sabotage my finances so quickly if I don’t understand my impulses on an emotional level.
As you venture into the work world to earn your way, remember that a lot of what you may consider “normal” about money is perhaps just your own skewed perception. Sometimes we buy things out of an emotional need, or we put ourselves into debt out of a desire to keep up with others. These are impulses we need to keep in check, especially as we look on social media and see other people’s lives. We don’t know their full story, and if we don’t check our emotional reactions to money, we can turn our lives into an unnecessary struggle.
The more money you earn, the more your unexamined beliefs about money can magnify and end up making you miserable. It’s often far healthier to get right with your mind before your paycheck increases.
I wish I had known when I was twenty-one that my relationship to money was just as important as my financial know-how. If I had questioned myself a bit more back then, and examined why I wanted this thing or that thing, perhaps I could have saved myself some emotional duress through my twenties. It’s no fun to have to undo the mistakes of your younger self when you’re trying to hustle your way into a better life as a more informed, healthier adult.
I wish I had put in the emotional work back then. I could have saved myself from a lot of stress—and a whole lot of debt.